Words & Noises
The Collector is available at:
12th August 2016
Desperation – 9.5
Play Your Cards – 9.6
The Morning After – 9.5
Rewind – 9.6
Play Your Cards; The Morning After; Rewind
Play Your Cards
Lyrics & music © Chris Selman 2016 all rights reserved.
Recorded, mixed & produced by Tim Thomas at Blueprint Studio One, Manchester, April 2016. Mastered by Andy Walter at Abbey Road Studios, London, May 2016.
Words & Noises are Chris Selman (vocals, guitars, keys) and Simon Williams (drums, percussion).
Additional performers: Rory McDonnell (backing vocals) and Ewart Hodge (viola).
TODAY I have been thinking about the small venues and clubs…
in this country and what their survival rate is going to be like in the coming years. Writing a piece for Impakter: it gets me thinking about the venues around the country and how vital they are helping foster our brilliant music industry. Before I come to my featured act, I wanted to look at that topic; acts that have come from Manchester to London (and the best our there) in addition to the art of quirky and unique songwriting. It is lamentable thinking the music industry will shrink and fragment because of the unpredictable fate of the clubs and small venues. We look around and hear stories of clubs like fabric shutting down and subjected to controversy and threat – will they ever see their doors open again? It is not just confined to London: the problem extends across the nation and is very worrying. Maybe there is a north-south divide but one wonders how we can stem the problem – make sure we preserve our very best venues so bands have somewhere to play. That is the reason for bringing up that side of things: how the best bands around started out playing these clubs. In order to transcend to the mainstream and cut your teeth appropriately; you need to go through the ‘toilet circuit’ and bond with the loyal, small venues crowds. What happens if we rob musicians the constitutional right to play clubs and venues? It is hard to imagine how music can survive were the club scene to shrink and musicians had to rely on larger venues and Internet-based promotion. It is quite shocking seeing so many places go out of business, and one wonders the reasons why. Perhaps there is a financial component and instability; maybe a lack of demand given high living costs or the fact more people are choosing to stay in to socialise. Whatever the reason behind the uncertainty; it is making many new artists very nervous and unsure. The reason I bring this up is because Words & Noises’ Chris Selman and Simon Williams rely on such venues in order to get their music out there. Perhaps not visiting many of the ‘basic’ venues around: the only way Words & Noises have arrived at your ears is because of the small clubs and venues.
Their new E.P. is out and one wonders whether it would have been made were it not for the opportunities and gigs they have been afforded – a chance to get live experience and connect with the audience. Before I raise a new point, it is worth meeting the London-based band:
“Words & Noises is an English pop band. It is the brainchild of London-based singer/songwriter Chris Selman, who works collaboratively with Manchester-based percussionist Simon Williams; together with a number of guest musicians they create a unique brand of piano-pop music. Following on from the 2013 EP Beating Heart and the 2014 EP Loaded Gun, Chris and Simon released their new EP, The Collector, on 12th August 2016. It was preceded by a single, Play Your Cards.
The new EP was recorded, mixed and produced by Tim Thomas at Manchester’s renowned Blueprint Studio One in April 2016. It was mastered by Andy Walter at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London during May 2016. Chris and Simon previewed the EP in its entirety at a one-off acoustic show in Manchester during the May bank holiday weekend. During July and August 2016 they played a trio of shows in London, Manchester and Liverpool, alongside numerous press interviews and TV and radio appearances to promote the new EP”.
I know the future of Words & Noises is secure but they still rely on small venues (at the moment) to promote their music and make a living. In time, the boys will be playing large festivals and arenas, but for now, they must depend on the honest and staple club scene. It is there for a reason and must not be sacrificed for any reason – we cannot lose our music scene or see it suffer. It is a point I wanted to make and something I will explore more at another time. Thinking of Words & Noises and one sees a duo that has a very bright and sturdy career ahead. They are based in London now but have come from Manchester. It is axiomatic to say Manchester is one of those cities that not only keep producing terrific bands and artists – it has helped shaped the modern music scenes and brought us legends of the future. The Gramotones, The Watchmakers, and PINS are a trio of Manchester acts I would recommend that show the variation and quality emanating from the city. Modern chart acts like Blossoms have put the city (or Greater Manchester) on the map and follow on from legends like The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis (among many others). It is impossible distilling Manchester’s music and brilliance into a short space – suffice to say the city is one of the greater areas for fantastic music. In unison with my musing about the club scene in the U.K.: the small venues in Manchester and the North are more assured and secure than their southern counterparts it seems. It appears a lot of Manchester bands are coming further south and settling in the capital. Despite the reputation for a certain coldness, expensiveness and anxiety: many musicians are favouring the relaxation and quiet of the towns and coming to London. Despite Manchester being a prosperous and wonderful city for music; the boys of Words & Noises are in London and taking the bull by the horns. Of course, they will be playing gigs in Manchester and connecting with the city; but it is interesting to see so many artists come to London. The opportunities are there and a rich community: many are undeterred by the negatives and struggles and discovering it is the place to be.
Words & Noises are ones to watch not only because of their links to Manchester and London but because of the wonderful blend of sounds they possess. Many reviews have all said the same thing about the duo: what a special and entertaining act they are; tasty tunes and a clear bond that makes their songs unforgettable and universal. It is rare to find an act that differs that much from the crowd and puts so much of themselves in the music. Against a lot of formulaic and familiar sounds, it is always wonderful discovering musicians that have that distinct quality and creates their own sub-genre. Words & Noises mix Pop and Rock but you are loathed to compare them readily with any other act – there are not many that instantly spring to the mind. I cannot wait to see how their future unfolds as it’s clear they have a lot more left to say. The Collector is their four-track E.P. and one that runs over with sensational moments and memorable choruses. All welded and bonded by fantastic performances and assured songwriting – a duo you have to seek out and follow. I have speculated just how many great duos there are around and how they differ to bands. In order to succeed and continue, the two players have that have a solid friendship as they cannot hide behind other players and fade into the background. If the duo has a strained relation then the music cannot hold up and their lifespan is finite. It is clear Selman and Williams have a brother-like bond and at the peak of their form. Long may this continue.
Before I get to grips with The Collector, I am compelled looking back at the band’s catalogue and how they have changed over the years. Beating Heart was released in 2013 and a confident, glimmering E.P. from a duo still finding their way into music. Having played together a lot before and performed locally: the E.P. has ample authority and is not the sound of two new musicians with no idea what they are doing. Words & Noises’ sound comes to the fore straight away and they demonstrated (back in 2013) how variegated and multi-layered they are. In the early days, perhaps trying to capture public attention and get into the spotlight, the duo penned and recorded the songs quite quickly in a D.I.Y. manner – getting the music out there and no relying on studios and gloss. It is understandable why the duo took this approach and could not afford to procrastinate and labour too hard. If you are a brand-new artist coming into the market, it is important to make your music heard quickly. That is not to say you should rush music out and negate the considerations of quality and focus. Beating Heart is a very solid and nuanced work that shows care and attention have gone in – an E.P. that has plenty of soul and instant classics. The boys showed how they differ from their peers and each song has a distinctly Words & Noises sound – you cannot compare it with other acts out there. Loaded Gun built on Beating Heart and boasted more weight and insight. The sound was familiar similar but, to my mind, the songs are more instant and enduring; that extra little something can be heard and the songwriting that much sharper and deeper. Like its predecessor, the E.P. has that lo-fi quality to it and is another release that boasts a D.I.Y. aesthetic. Perhaps trying to capture the mood and follow on from their previous work quickly – it was quickly put out (again) and ensures the duo remained in the public mindset. After those E.P.s and accompanying touring, things are changed. The boys’ reputation was solidified and radio stations started to throw huge love and praise their way. Having that fanbase behind them, there was less of a need to rush The Collector and that shows. Songs are more polished and refined and have been worked on repeatedly to get the sound and feeling just so. No weak moment or any half-hearted sentiments: the duo has taken care, in every stage, to make sure the songs are as they envisaged them and taken a studio-based approach. This change in dynamic and writing has not changed their music for the worse. All the components and qualities of Beating Heart and Loaded Gun are there but The Collector takes it on a step and is their finest work yet. More mature, reflective and accomplished than anything they have ever done.
Already, The Collector has gained effusive reviews and being spoken about with huge passion – guess I am a little late to put my opinion into the mix. Desperation starts with jubilance and grandiose gallop and shines with alacrity and sunshine. Given the song’s title, it was unlikely the lyrics would reflect such an optimism and hopefulness. Our hero approaches the microphone and (with cheery abandon) state there is a “whiff of desperation in the room”. Selman’s lyrics and vocals look at something “quite contrary” and surprising. The youths come to drink and wipe away their problems: you envisage a club scene or setting and a general feeling of hopelessness. Whether Selman is referring to nightlife and the people who are “quite ordinary” I am not sure. It seems like the lyrics could apply to a wider suggestion and look at those who think they are everything and get consumed by their ego. You can apply the logical to relationships and workplaces; the music scene and social gatherings – the words have an adaptable and amenable nature; every listener can attribute them to their own imaginations and opinions. In my mind, I got thinking about an egotist and showman that thinks he is the business but slightly disillusioned. Selman’s voice has quirky nature that brings rare emotions and colours from the lyrics. He is sympathetic but in no mood to celebrate a central figure and that way of life. Becoming more intriguing and fascinating with each new thought – one wonders whether it is a friend of the duo or known acquaintance. You can picture scenes where the guy rocks up expecting to be celebrated and acclaimed but is being shunned and overlooked. Maybe referencing a general type of human or a known target – a fascinating song that provides plenty of mystery to The Collector. The anti-hero hangs in dingy clubs with teenager and seems like a sad figure – kidding himself and trying to be cool for no reason at all. Looking at the nature of fitting in with wrong crowds and being disillusioned: boasting the very human and witty observations Words & Noises are famed for.
Following the sparkling, almost Christmas-like chime of Desperation: Play Your Cards follows and keeps the momentum going. A single that has picked up a lot of attention and airplay already; it is perhaps the key cut from the E.P. Looking at the unpredictability and gamble of love (hence the title): it looks at relations and passions with new insight and objectives. The composition is tenser and tighter than the opening track and has more melody and singalong charm. Carrying itself on a gleeful wave of charm and pristine composition notes: Williams provides lust, colour and character to the song whilst Selman’s distinct vocal stylings push the lyrics forward and provide rush and excitement. Not ever trying to fit in with any other act: it is a distinctly Words & Noises song and mixes positivity and negative perfectly. Another assured and delightful composition – kudos to Williams’ performance – they are matched by Selman’s lyrics and graceful voice. Looking at protectors and those who want to ‘collect’ his heart – referencing the E.P.’s title here – he is a gambler who is stepping into relations not knowing how they will develop. Swooning, graceful vocals give the song gravitas and beauty but there is anxiety underpinning it. Our man is laying his cards on the table and his heart is on the line. What could come off as cliché and trope is given plenty of distinction and personality because of Selman’s delivery and insights – Williams injection so many different layers and nuances into the composition. Wordless vocals provide a ‘60s-Pop shine and there is a consistent drive and intensity to the song – never suffocating; the song is always light and agile. Having been castigated and disappointed in the past: our hero is hesitant putting his soul out there and risk being fooled. Like the rest of The Collector: you are addicted and seduced by the gleefulness of the composition and the wisdom and story of the lyrics. Play Your Cards is an instant favourite that not only get you singing ad moving in time with the song but compels repeated listening – just so you get to the bottom of the words and all their truths.
The Morning After might have obvious suggestions and ideas but is not quite as simple as that. The hero is trying to distil his Rock ‘n’ Roll spirt and perhaps recapture some of his better days. The Collector, as Selman has stated, is a more mature and reflective work. Perhaps a nod back to his 20s and clubbing days – perhaps it is harder fitting into that mould when you’re in your 30s. Not just looking at casual sex and the walk of shame: it is a wider and deeper investigation of growing up and not being that person anymore. Selman walks outside and may “be some time” it seems: collecting his keys and heading out to have some fun. Maybe (Selman) is not looking to self-destruct or rekindle his youth but looking for answers and truths. It is a song that makes you investigate away from obvious conclusions and get thinking. Once more, and like Words & Noises’ other tracks, the seriousness of the foreground is balanced with a composition that has spring, skip and Pop flavours. That blend does not distill The Morning After and its words: instead, it makes it more accessible and endeavouring; more rounded and complete. An unexpected and much-needed spark of electric guitar comes past the half-way mark and adds new dimensions and compositional elements. Emotive, swinging and gritty: it catches you unaware and provides a lot of regret, heartache and anger. It is clear the hero is not who he was and no longer natural in that morning after role – he seems to be going out and drinking for sake of things. Maybe wanting to meet a man but not have anything permanent: a very ‘teenage’ way of life is being documented – for someone in their 30s. Squandering his youth and regretting choices he has made; you cannot help but empathise with the hero and that sense of confusion. Words & Noises ensure the song goes right through the deck of cards – maybe the joker is being played too many times.
Completing the E.P. is Rewind. Whereas previous songs have sprung from the traps and won you with energy and effusiveness – there is a more casual, serious and reflective sound being put out. Earlier tracks of youth, love and gambling have all looked at age and the need for maturity and wise decisions. Rewind seems to be the aural equivalent of revelation and sobering up: waking in a haze and realising changes need to be made (little lyric in there for you!). That is all revealed in a vocal that is more tender and pure than anything. Gone are the more playful edges and youthful spring to be replaced by man who is sizing things up and looking at the nature of love. Having fallen for others in the past: it seems a pattern if emerging. The song is still enjoyable but there is a more serious sentiment that adds a new layer and side to the duo. Whoever is being represented in the song might be a player. It seems like our hero is not sure whether the affection is pure and whether it is a trap. Perhaps cynical but you feel the reticence and hesitation comes from a sane voice – one that has found too much heartbreak and disappointment in the past. Stately strings and shoulder-supporting percussion ensure the song has necessary emotion and sadness but not too tired – plenty of beauty and gracefulness come through in the composition. Selman shows his knack of conversational brilliance in the lyrics – never one to succumb to cliché and lacking inspiration. The lovers are keen to start anew (the word “dear” seems like a charming and anachronistic term of endearment) and not make the same mistakes. In the midst of such a situation: Selman’s voice remains dignified and composed; never showing too much emotion or being insincere. Words & Noises show how they can shift moods and sounds whilst keeping their distinct personality firm. Many bands and acts, the very best out there, can switch like this and (Rewind) provides an emotive and heartfelt finale. “Are we falling apart?” is a question that has rarely sounded so meaningful and affecting as here. Perhaps the sweethearts have a history and it is a complicated situation. Our hero swims in his own head and is looking for clarity know it might never come. It is clear things will take time to resolve themselves and you are always wondering whether hearts will be broken or happiness will emerge. Towards the closing stages of the song, that earlier question is emphaised and the necessity to rewind is paramount – going back to the start and picking things up fresh. A wonderful song that demonstrates how the duo have progressed. Rewind could never have exited on their first two E.P.s and benefits from studio treatment and polish; ensuring every line and sentiment gets straight into he heart. It completes a wonderful four-track E.P. and a fascinating, consistent creation that is their crowning achievement to date.
The Collector is a stunning work that is tight, focused and awash with imagination, fantastic songs and distinct edges. The boys do not copy their contemporaries or come off as a second-rate version of someone else. One of the most varied and individual duo you are likely to hear in years: the fantastic reviews and hype they have received is justified and appropriate. I am not sure what the rest of 2016 holds for them but I know there will be tour dates and chances to get their new E.P. to the crowds. Let’s hope there are plenty of venues out there for the guys – coming back to my early point – and the audiences are warm and receptive. The feedback and acclaim they have received suggests they are incredible live and an act I will have to see. The next time they play London I’ll have to get myself involved and witness their music first-hand. Before wrapping this up, it is prudent not only looking at the duo’s future but see how they have come on. I mentioned early on how their latest work is more polished and assured than previous E.P.s and that speaks volumes. Clearly there is a lot of confidence and faith in the group and they are not musicians that want to stand still and repeat themselves. Embracing a cleaner and more studio-set sound: it still has D.I.Y. touches but it more accessible and polished without losing the common touch. The Collector signals a new phase for the duo and sees them preparing themselves for mainstream life. I am not sure whether they have any plans for the future with regards new material and albums but it seems only a matter of time before they join contemporaries like The 1975 and Everything Everything.
Those two bands are ones the band tip as idols and define the Manchester scene. The city will always be the spiritual home for Words & Noises (Selman especially) and runs in the blood. Aside from current favourites Blossoms and Guy Garvey – showing how nimble and consistent he is when stepping aside from Elbow – the bands who made the city what it is today never forget their roots. Words & Noises are based in London but always remind you of Manchester’s finest – a little bit of fellow norther acts Artic Monkeys and The Beatles. It is likely the boys will keep things lo-key for the rest of 2016 and prime themselves for new material and chances. On The Collector; they have taken a step forward and are working with professionals who have contributed to material by Radiohead and David Bowie. I know Selman would like the chance to perform alongside Paul McCartney and Noel Gallagher and you wouldn’t bet against that. Words & Noises are a utilitarian act that have won many hearts and are only going to grow stronger and bigger. Do not overlook just how important it is to promote and investigate acts like Words & Noises. On the surface, you may assume them to be another act that sounds like so-and-so and will not really stand aside. That is a naïve assumption but perhaps excusable. We get bombarded with so many artists who are tipped as the next big things and it can murk the waters. The artists that are truly unique and wonderful often toil in anonymity and struggle to get appropriate dues. I still find the young guitar band gets too much focus and is the default go-to ‘hero’. We need to shift our thinking and celebrate musicians on merit rather than history and market trends. If you factor out all the media narrowmindedness and predictability and there are still many willing to open their ears and bring us the very finest acts – 6 Music are among the champions of Words & Noises. The Collector is a wonderful E.P. that arrives from a duo who improves and expands with every new release. If you require music original, accomplished and characterful then embrace the boys and take them to heart. Manchester has produced so many wonderful acts the past few decades: it is no exaggeration to suggest Words & Noises…
DESERVE to be mentioned alongside them.
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